Music — 15 August 2013
“Control” Yourself: Kendrick Lamar Just Saved Rap

I know.  I know. I’m the Jay Electronica of posting.

Much like the procrastinating poet, I have repeatedly promised a number of my Facebook family and Twitter fam that I would weigh in on the Kendrick Lamar’s “Control” verse and its outsized effect on the industry.   Clearly, as Jay Elec does with his verses, I am taking my sweet time.

Well, what can I say? Managing JET’s  newly redesigned Web site has kept me crazily busy, but as one of the biggest fans of hip hop music, you knew I had an opinion.

So, here it is.

I present you with five reasons why, despite all the indignation and outrage from s0-called kings of rap including Joell Ortiz, what young Kendrick did might just have saved the culture they claim to love.  I truly don’t think he meant to insult anyone, but here’s what he did accomplish:

1.  He ripped the seams out of the shiny suit theory.

I respect Diddy as an entrepreneur, but I will never forgive Sean Combs for inviting the word “hater” into the lexicon and essentially making materialism front and center.  Of course, bragging was always part of the culture, but Mr. Combs elevated it into an art form.  It didn’t matter how well you rapped, according to the shiny suit theory, it was all about what you had to brag about.  He, with the thickest chain wins, no matter if your lyrics sounded like they came from a nursery rhyme. The direct result of such feckless flossing is this fool right here.

But young Ken, with his wicked verse, reminded MCs of what this game is all about.  It’s about being witty, flipping metaphors, slanging similes and always trying to outdo your opponent.  It’s not about coming up with a catchy, pointless hook (Trinidad James, Waka Flocka, Gucci, et. al).  It’s about honing your craft and keeping everyone around you honest.  Ken is not the only voice trying to bring that message to the masses, but right now, he just happens to be floating in the mainstream.  What he said was for all the ones who bring it, and aren’t given their just due.  He didn’t name check them (which may, or may not have offended them), but he got one off for Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Ghostface Killah, KRS One, Rakim and all the rest who really should have been ruling the day if tomfoolery hadn’t seized center stage.

2.  He brought the best out of his peers.

Do you really think that Big Sean would allow Kendrick’s verse to stand if he truly felt he was being verbally assaulted?  Man, they could have pressed delete on that bad boy and kept it moving.  Mr. “Oh God” is a little mad now, after the fact, that everyone is screaming that he was overshadowed. 

 

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Still, Kendrick’s words made it out into the world because of what it offered:  A challenge that rappers need to remember what their craft is about.  Even J. Cole has lamented how he was forced into a talk-singing style and a focus on women and bragging to fit the radio format.  The “Born Sinner” and Jay-Z protege was later eaten alive by the notion he disappointed Nas by selling his skills up the river.  But now Cole, who was called out, will remember the stinging words from his friend and collaborator the next time he feels like he needs to channel Drake and whine his way to the top of the pops.  Believe me, I understand that there needs to be diversity in sound and I don’t want to listen to Mos Def all day every day any more than I want to listen to Lil’ Wayne all day.  But when you have to go from Talib to Trinidad to get airplay and attention, there’s something wrong.  The game is wearing a big out-of-order sign and needs to be repaired.  We can’t have promising artists forced into a mold.  And sometimes they need a reminder of what they came out here to do.

3.  He might help us get an album out of Jay Electronica.

Jay is one of my favorites, which is odd, because he currently has the work ethic of a lyrical Lindsay Lohan.  Hopefully, hearing his name in the verse will wake him from his poppy-induced slumber and romancing British socialites and send his arse into the studio to finish what he started with Exhibits A through C.  This man is so captivating in the booth and on stage that it’s literally like watching David Copperfield work magic in his prime.  I don’t think that Kendrick Lamar can get with Electronica on the mic at this point, and I suspect Ken knows this as well.  But maybe his cocky aside will get me an Electronica album.  I’ll take it how I can get it.

4.  He reinvigorated some other wishy washy, over-it colleagues.

And that lagging Electronica ain’t the only one he woke up.  I found it kind of funny that Lupe Fiasco was one of the first to respond, though I cannot say his banana reference-filled rebuttal made much sense.  In fact, I listened to it twice and was a little astonished this was all the West Side wordsmith could come with.  I almost suspected Lupe was making a mockery of the testosterone-charged reaction you are supposed to have when someone comes for you.  But let’s assume he’s serious, this man has been contemplating leaving rap.  In fact, during my last interview with him, he was entertaining embracing another medium altogether.  Even if it’s temporary, Kendrick’s words got Wasalu back from the Lupesphere he exiled himself to after shady dealings with his label.  And B.o.B. also got his feathers ruffled, but it’s time this lyrical beast stopped daydreaming and got back to the grind himself.  Funny how he even describes rap as boring in his own semi-salty response. I think of Kendrick as the alarm clock that woke some of these layabouts out of snooze mode.

5.  He got people excited about rap.

As Bobby suggests: How bored have you been by rap lately?  Admit it.  Other than Kanye projecting videos on walls or Jay-Z “performing” his “Picasso” in an actual gallery, the rap you typically hear is the same boring mess about champagne showers, jewelry, money-throwing, and cars. The videos all run together like one long bachelor’s party that never seems to end.   If you didn’t know any better, you’d think it was the QVC.  Even the rappers with the highest level of skill seem mired in “Godfather” mythology and strip-club confabs. But this verse gave us the chance to hear refreshing lyrics based on skill, eschewing material goods and playfully goading his own collaborators and idols.  I mean, look at this meme.

Isn’t it great to be talking about how hot music is, rather than collectively SMHing at how low the art form has fallen?

YOUR TURN: What do you think? Was Kendrick’s verse uplifting to the art form or simply insulting to his colleagues?  Will the Lamar effect last, or are we all just waiting for “Tap Out 2?”  Let me know what you think below in comments.

 

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